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CGD’s work on gender focuses policies in aid, development finance, trade, migration and peacekeeping that will improve women’s economic empowerment worldwide.
Greater equality drives big gains in health, education, employment, and improved livelihoods—for individuals, their families, and their communities. However, in many parts of the world, women and girls, and other marginalized groups including LGBT people, still face legal, economic, and political constraints that prevent them from participating fully and equally in society. CGD uses evidence to show how governments, donor institutions, and the private sector can help create conditions in low- and middle-income countries that allow all people to thrive.
On International Women’s Day it is right to celebrate the huge advances in women’s rights during our own lifetimes. In almost every country in the world, women are closer to achieving equality in economic and social activity. However, even as we celebrate progress, we cannot lose sight of the road still to travel. Every day millions of women around the globe face obstacles, small and large, in being able to make decisions about their own lives and being able to do what they want to realize their full economic and human potential.
These obstacles take many forms—social norms and expectations, legal barriers, and poverty and inequality—and changing attitudes and behaviors unfortunately can take years of education and exposure to new thinking. But there are areas where concerted international action can accelerate the pace of change, and we need to make sure that these are high enough on the agenda for international development leaders.
One such area is support for family planning and contraception. In development circles, only recently is the case for modern contraception being made on the grounds of economic empowerment. Access to contraception allows women to postpone childbearing and to take up career options that were previously precluded. With the help of family planning tools, women can now envisage investing in professional training that may take several years, because they are confident that their plans will not be derailed by the unexpected birth of a child. As my colleague, Nancy Birdsall, points out in her recent blog on this subject, the introduction of the birth control pill in the 1970s led to a rapid and marked increase in the US in the number of women applying for medical and law training, not only because they were able to plan their professional training with more confidence, but because the admission committees of these universities could also rely on the same phenomenon to increase their comfort in offering places to applicants who would more likely complete their courses.
More recent evidence, which we discussed at a recent conference here at CGD, found that access to family planning in developing countries can lead to “increased schooling, labor force participation, occupational choice, and wages.” The interesting new finding is that the simple availability (not necessarily use) of family planning services has an impact on the behavior and expectations of girls and their families. In Malaysia, for example, girls living near family planning clinics remained in school six months longer on average. In Indonesia researchers have found that the presence of family planning programs when young women are making school attendance decisions increases substantially their educational attainment. The explanation is that because girls and their parents can envisage a future where the timing of their first child and the spacing of children is possible, they are willing to invest more in schooling or to make a commitment to working in the future, even if they themselves are not using these services at that time.
The gains from greater women’s economic empowerment accrue not only to women but to society as a whole. According to a McKinsey study, achieving gender parity in economic participation could add a quarter ($28 trillion) to the world economy by 2025. In the Middle East, where the gap between male and female participation in the work force is three times larger than the average for all developing countries, simply narrowing that gap to being twice as large as the average would add $1 trillion to economic activity over a decade. If you look through the economic literature there are many equally striking estimates of the gains that would come through greater economic empowerment of women at the regional, national or global level.
While these numbers are impressive and helpful in making the case for increased access to family planning services on the grounds of economic impact, I believe that they must be secondary to the fundamental issue of women’s rights. Two hundred million women who want to prevent pregnancy are not currently using modern contraception—too often because of poverty or environmental restrictions that deny them access to this essential service.
Given these facts, it is a shame to see the decline in international support for expanding family planning services in developing countries. UNFPA, the UN agency charged with ending maternal deaths and promoting family planning services, is facing a $700 million gap for funding contraceptives over the next three years. Here in the US, the administration’s budget proposals for FY19 entail a 50 percent reduction in funding for international family planning. Some countries—Canada, the Netherlands, India, Indonesia, and the United Kingdom—have maintained or stepped up their support for family planning and women’s health but overall the scale of international funding and attention to this issue falls well short of needs.
Development is about more than improved living standards or a better quality of life—it is being empowered to make choices about one’s own life. Ensuring that half the world’s population can exercise their choices about whether and when to bear children is a development goal that should be a priority for all.
Women’s equality and empowerment is a driver of economic growth and development around the world, and development organizations routinely include and espouse this goal as part of their missions and activities. But if you peel back the curtain, there are serious questions about whether—behind the scenes—development organizations are living up to these values in the workplace.
My colleagues Tanvi Jaluka and Charles Kenny analyzed a random sample of 30 US organizations (10 each from foundations, think tanks, and NGOs) that work on global development, and found that less than one-third of key/high-paid employees at the sampled think tanks are women, and that key/high-paid women appear to be paid less than key/high-paid men in all three of the sample groups. Some years ago, my then-colleague Victoria Fan and current colleague Rachel Silverman asked “who runs the global health world?” and concluded: not women.
The data is clear: there is more that we can all be doing, and it’s time to look inward.
First, development aid organizations need better workplace policies. One woman wrote to us on Twitter last week, telling us that she’s running a project that encourages Moroccan companies to adopt better maternity leave practices, but she has no maternity leave herself. That’s not okay. Every organization needs to look at their own policies and assess what needs to change to recruit, hire, and pay women equally.
At the Center for Global Development, we are taking a hard look at the makeup of our board, for example. We recently lost three valuable women leaders (Henrietta Fore to UNICEF, Dina Habib Powell to the Trump administration, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to an expiring term), so we’re starting more targeted outreach to new board members, hoping to better match our values to our board composition. We are also disappointed by the low male participation in any CGD event branded as relating to women; our stats are dismal. At non-gender-related events, about half of participants are male. At gender-related events, only 13 percent of the audience is male.
Elsewhere in the field, the World Health Organization’s great move to diversify its leadership was welcome (see here), although the fact that a merit-based competition was not part of those appointments left some with a funny aftertaste. It was exciting to see my former employer, the Inter-American Development Bank, obtain EDGE Certification and commit to parity last year, but it is disappointing that an organization can be certified when only six of 25 board members are women, and 10 of its 33 top leaders are women, with most of the 10 in charge of administrative matters. At the World Bank Group, Jishnu Das and co-authors find a gender wage gap between male and female professionals of about $27,400 between 1987 and 2015, mainly explained by men entering the WBG in higher paid positions and by differential rates of salary growth throughout careers favoring men. (The World Bank has also committed to parity.)
So there’s been progress, but there is much more to do.
Second, development organizations need to foster work environments that are safe spaces for women and people of all genders. The #MeToo movement and recent allegations against aggressors and their enablers at Oxfam and Save the Children are reminders that sexual harassment and exploitation occur in all sectors, and development is no exception. When it happens, organizations should be ready to take it seriously and respond quickly and fairly.
Finally, there’s the subtle stuff. It’s pointing out a problem when you see it, as in Alice Evans’ response to a mostly male list of “top development thinkers.” It’s taking—and upholding—Owen Barder’s pledge not to appear on male-only panels (we’re as guilty as everyone). It’s creating space for discussions like this to happen, and really listening to what people are saying. It is easy to become more aware, but not easy to change. Cultural shift and leadership is essential to make policies effective.
In that spirit of discussion, the Center for Global Development is hosting an event with Devex at 4:00 pm ET on Tuesday, March 6, called Practicing What We Preach, which will highlight practical ways organizations can live up to their promises for a gender-equal workplace. I’m honored to be joined by Alice Evans, lecturer in international development at King’s College London; Angela Bruce-Raeburn, formerly of Oxfam; and my colleague Cindy Huang, co-director of CGD’s Migration, Displacement, and Humanitarian Policy Program, along with Devex’s Kate Warren and Kate Wathen.
We hope you’ll be there too, sharing your tips and experiences and keeping the conversation going.
Can biometric IDs encourage women’s financial inclusion and economic and social empowerment? This was the question I addressed while participating in a recent Deeply Talks panel, alongside Atika Kemal from Anglia Ruskin University and Debdatta Saha from South Asian University. In principle, the answer should be yes, since identification is necessary for “agency”—the ability to act and transact independently. In practice, the answer, based on cases in India, Pakistan, and some other countries, seems to be a qualified yes, especially when ID is linked to digital payments.
But the potential impact is limited by a range of other impediments that limit women’s participation.
First, the good news. Research in Pakistan discussed by the panel found that mobile banking provided women with flexibility and convenience to cash the full amount of grants at various locations such as banking agents, ATMs, and point-of-sale machines via a secure PIN known only to the beneficiary. This eliminated the practice of politicians or postmen demanding bribes for delivering the cash payments at home. It also found that issuing women with national identity cards, which were mandatory to register with BISP and to eliminate identity theft when cashing payments, not only boosted their social standing and authority in their households but also granted political freedoms through assisting their rights to exercise their vote in elections.
Research in Rajasthan, India, which has integrated several social schemes into a state-wide “Bhamasha” program with women the designated head of household, found that virtually all had bank accounts linked to the Aadhaar, India’s unique ID number, and that women transacted frequently on their accounts. Previously, two-thirds of these women had not had bank accounts at all. This represents a major step towards formal financial inclusion.
But, as the discussion concluded, ID alone is not a silver bullet. Digital empowerment requires the capacity and resources to operate in a digital world. The Pakistan study found that most women were illiterate. They encountered digital and financial hurdles, and were dependent on more literate family members or friends for reading text messages to notify them of payments. Similarly, in the Rajasthan study, in only 20 percent of households did the Bhamashah women head of family read SMS or make phone calls. Another study in Bihar found numerous obstacles to full financial inclusion among women. They were frequently unable to open “zero balance” bank accounts for themselves and were required to pay side payments to “facilitators.” Many earned only very low informal sector wages leaving little over for financial savings.
Not all the obstacles can be quickly overcome, but one conclusion from these studies is the need to complement the shift towards digital programs, and a digital society more broadly, by a massive program of digital literacy—particularly for women.
Many organizations working on development champion women’s empowerment and equality as a core goal. But behind the scenes, how are these organizations living these values and what can they do better? On March 6, the Center for Global Development and Devex will host an event highlighting practical ways organizations can live up to their promises for a gender-equal workplace.
The “glass ceiling” in finance has barely cracked. Compared to the available talent pool, there is still a large gap between the representation of men and women in leadership positions in banks and bank supervision agencies worldwide. In her presentation, Ratna Sahay will summarize new data on banking sector characteristics and performance, as well as the share of women on the boards of directors and banking supervision agency boards. The data indicate that—contrary to common perceptions—many low- and middle-income countries have a higher share of women in bank boards and banking supervision agency boards compared to advanced economies. Together with her IMF colleagues, Sahay uses this new dataset to explore the link between gender and financial stability. She will argue that the presence of women, as well as a higher share of women, on bank boards and banking supervision agencies may contribute to greater bank stability.
Access to voluntary family planning has far-reaching implications for the economic empowerment and the health of women and their families. And never has the demand for family planning services been so large or grown so quickly in low- and middle-income countries. Yet, even as demand continues to grow, international support for family planning has fallen for the second year in a row. Compounding this problem is that country commitments are hard to measure and often undermined by currency fluctuations. Support from the US government—the largest bilateral donor to family planning—is increasingly uncertain. Although, this is not the first time that uncertainties have been experienced.
Last month, CGD hosted four former directors of USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health to reflect on their experiences, which spanned US administrations from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. (You can watch the event here). Below, we highlight three main takeaways— the critical role of technical leadership, the importance of data, and the need to start with the end in mind when planning for successful transitions.
1. More than Money: USG Technical Leadership
“What characteristics does USAID have that other sources of funds don’t have? … Knowledge generation. Many of the examples we’ve talked about are knowledge generating activities that USAID has been involved in and if we were to lose that, it would be a loss, not just for our programs, but for the field, in general.” – Duff Gillespie
“The single most important feature of AID assistance has really been the technical leadership and innovation—and people have to keep pushing the boundaries, keep innovating, keep providing that technical leadership, keep showing the way, make sure it’s well-documented, there’s good evidence, make sure evidence is turned into action, and make sure that there’s an opportunity to scale up.” – Liz Maguire
Much of the US government’s impact on international family planning stems from its deep technical expertise and support for innovation. Panelists reflected on the office’s crucial role in strengthening organizations that work in partnership with host countries, which allowed new donors in family planning to build rapidly on the capacities USAID had in place. As the donor landscape expanded, USAID’s deep understanding contributed to the creation of FP2020 and the Ouagadougou Partnership. Attention to the quality of care and voluntarism in family planning programs has long been a hallmark of USAID support. Underlying the field-based expansion of quality family planning services, the US government remains one of the very few institutions with a strong history of support investment in R&D for new and newly adapted contraceptives that are used by women both in the US and around the world.
2. Leading the Movement: Data to Drive Program and Policy Decisions
“The DHS has been a very useful tool to show that these programs are actually having an impact. . . I think that having the data to show that it [family planning] does work and to help inform program and policies about what is it that is working is a critical investment.” – Scott Radloff
“[Developing a budgeting model] allowed us to identify the highest-priority countries—at the time we had 13 countries we identified as high-priority, mostly in Africa and some in South Asia as well. Even though the budget was more or less stable, stagnant over that period of time, we were able to double, and then I think triple, the resources going to those thirteen countries.” – Scott Radloff
From the creation of the World Fertility Surveys—the basis for the Demographic and Health Surveys—the office has a longstanding history in gathering and using data. Early data modelling tools that clearly demonstrated the role family planning contributes across many development sectors set the standard for data-based policy dialogue with host country governments as they determined how to set and reach their larger development goals. And in the early 2000s, the office established a set of indicators to identify priority countries for USAID family planning investments and decentralized decision-making to local USAID mission staff. Many of the lessons of using data-based decisions to strategically program resources have been adopted and expanded upon by FP2020 and other global platforms.
3. Start with the End in Mind: Planning for Successful and Sustainable Country Transitions
Recognizing that phase-out of external funding should be systematic to be successful, in 2006 USAID defined a family planning graduation strategy. The strategy relied on a set of indicators to identify countries that were good candidates. As the process unfolded, USAID concentrated on partnering with each government to increase country ownership and transition away from assistance.
“We felt we needed to have criteria and data that would allow us to say, no [this country is] not ready. Or, let’s have some real analysis out in the field to really make sure that what we’re doing won’t leave that country going backwards as opposed to continuing to go forwards.” – Margaret Neuse
“[Following] the criteria really helped make for a more robust transition.” – Liz Maguire
“There are places where, in fact, consumers already pay a great deal out of pocket…and one area where AID has done fabulous work in is looking at private sector options, be it social marketing, be it doctors adding family planning to their practices, etc. and. . . other types of creative funding mechanisms” – Margaret Neuse
Historically, once a country was identified, there was an intensive multiyear process that brought together host country governments, USAID’s Washington and mission staff, and local partner organizations to ensure the continued procurement of contraceptives, quality service delivery, and a supportive policy environment. Sustainable financing was often central to the process, at times including unique models, such as impact bonds, endowments, and enterprise funds. The strategy allowed for effective and sustainable transitions of many countries in Latin America, as well as others like Morocco and Turkey.
The shared experience of these four former directors highlights three unique strengths of USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health and provide overarching lessons for US and international family planning practitioners during a time of funding and policy uncertainty. Concern was noted about the impacts of the Mexico City Policy, including the well-documented role of family planning in decreasing abortion.
Independent of administrations or the congressional environment, USAID family planning programs have played a leading role in supporting expanded access to high-quality voluntary family planning through technical leadership, diplomatic and policy engagement, and financial support. Their history reinforces the importance of using data to ensure the most impactful use of scarce resources while focusing on the long-term goal of building more resilient and sustainable programs, and exploring creative approaches to design alternative financing mechanisms. Laying the groundwork for the investment case for family planning is more important than ever, and critical in enabling the community to harmonize efforts for short- and long-term planning and results.
Thanks to Jessie Lu for contributions to this post.
On top of 63 million missing women, a new report from the Indian government reveals an even more pervasive pattern of sexism in recent demographic data—hinting at persistent patriarchal preferences impervious to India's economic boom.
Will the rising tide of India's rapid economic development lift all Indians equally, and gradually wash away gender discrimination and patriarchy? That's the question—and clearly the hope—underlying chapter seven of India's 2018 Economic Survey, led by the Chief Economic Advisor Arvind Subramanian (on leave from CGD) and released by the Ministry of Finance on Monday.
Building on Seema Jayachandran's recent review from a global perspective, the Economic Survey finds that on 12 out of 17 indicators measuring women's welfare and agency, India has progressed over the most recent decade for which data are available (2005-6 to 2015-6), and in most of those progress has been roughly at the pace its economic growth would predict.
But there are glaring exceptions. Notably, Indian women have depressingly little agency in their reproductive choices. Sterilization, as opposed to other reversible forms of birth control, is 50 percent more common in India than income would predict, and barely declining overtime. On the purely economic front, women's employment in non-manual work has risen over the last decade, but India remains a (bad) outlier for its level of GDP.
Underlying these failings, the report's diagnosis focuses on stubborn cultural norms: son preference, and the ugly term, "son meta-preference."
How meta-preferences produce "unwanted girls"
Son preference manifests itself in sex-selective abortions and differential treatment of boys and girls. It produces the startling imbalance in gender ratios in India, known as "missing women" in Amartya Sen's famous phrasing. The Economic Survey places the current tally of missing women at 63 million.
But as the report points out, the reality is worse than this. Even where sex ratios are balanced, son preference may be widespread. Couples' decisions to keep having kids until they get a boy—what scholars refer to as “son meta-preference”—create what the report calls "unwanted girls." This neologism refers to a phenomenon that is visible only in the sex ratio imbalances of the last child among women who have completed fertility.
Our chart of the week, pictured above, shows this phenomenon of son meta-preference in stark relief:
For India, the sex ratio of the last child for first-borns is 1.82, heavily skewed in favor of boys compared with the ideal sex ratio of 1.05. This ratio drops to 1.55 for the second child for families that have exactly two children and so on. The striking contrast between the two panels conveys a sense of son meta preference. This contrast is even more stark when seen against the performance of Indonesia (middle panels) where the SRLC is close to the ideal, regardless of the birth order and whether the child is the last or not.
Adding up the gap between the ideal sex ratio of 1.05 and the actual ratio for the last child, the Economic Survey calculates there are 21 million "unwanted girls" among females ages 0-25 in India today.
Without making any strong claims of causation, it is notable that "unwanted girls" are concentrated in Indian states where as adult women they are likely to experience low welfare outcomes and limited agency (see the bottom panel of the figure above). As Seema Jayachandran and Rohini Pande show in their recent article in the American Economic Review, these kinds of preferences can help explain the much higher incidence of malnutrition among Indian children relative to their peers in most African countries.
In an extremely thoughtful review of the literature on the reciprocal relationship between economic development and women's economic empowerment, MIT economist Esther Duflo concludes that while causation surely flows in both directions, the relationships are often weaker than we might hope. Her final verdict is that "economic development alone will probably not be enough to bring about equality between women and men in the foreseeable future, and policies will be required to accelerate this process."
The Economic Survey is a bit weak on this last point, listing a handful of government efforts to promote gender equality, without any data on their success. Lest anyone be confused, the Survey's demonstration of deep social norms and preferences underlying India's unequal gender outcomes is no justification for policy quietism—nor is it presented as such. Preferences can be changed, and even when they can't, people with patriarchal preferences still respond to incentives. It's up to policymakers to start providing better ones.
Thanks to Divyanshi Wadhwa for research assistance.